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Most Americans travel to the capital, but some of this cozy country’s most beautiful and uniquely Irish places are in the west and south — and you can cover a lot of ground here on a short trip.
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Arrive at Shannon Airport and drive 52 miles north to Galway— one of the world’s friendliest cities and host to more than 120 festivals and events each year (including the big-deal Galway Races Summer Festival, the place to see horse racing, Irish elites and exotic hats). Check into your hotel; consider the elegant and historic Hotel Meyrick in the center of town or the ultramodern G Hotel on the edge of the city’s shallow lake known as Lough Atalia. For lunch, stop by the Kitchen Café and Restaurant at the free Galway City Museum, which is packed with information on Galway history and the perfect place to begin your visit. Then consider a 90-minute scenic cruise along the River Corrib or a culinary stroll with foodie Sheena Dignam of Galway Food Tours to sample local cheeses, chocolates, beers and more. If that doesn't fill you up, indulge in beef and Guinness stew (or just a pint) on Quay Street at the historic pub the Quays, or nosh on oysters at the 120-year-old Tigh Neachtain — both great spots to hear traditional Irish music.
Drive about an hour and a half back down south to Limerick, where accommodations range from low-key B&Bs (check out the website Bed & Breakfast Ireland) to stylish hipster hangouts like the modern, centrally located Absolute Hotel. The city is probably best known as author Frank McCourt’s hometown — and yes, there's an Angela’s Ashes walking tour based on McCourt's famous memoir — but Limerick’s most iconic sites include the 13th-century King John’s Castle and St. Mary’s Cathedral, founded in 1168. Also check out the Hunt Museum, which displays Celtic antiquities plus works by Picasso and Renoir, then visit the Milk Market for local crafts and foods.